It has been a year of changes for FC Barcelona do-it-all swingman Adam Hanga. On the court, he has learned on the job to play point guard due to his club's plague of injuries at that position. Off the court, he had to deal with a heartbreaking loss after his grandfather Gyorgy Szep passed away last March. Szep was much more than his grandfather, though. Hanga considers him the closest thing he ever had to a father.
"It is even hard to put it in words because he meant so much to me. Everybody knows that I didn't know my father, and he was the one who raised me and kind of became my father. He was the person in my family asking for discipline and all that kind of stuff. He was working two or three jobs. I remember he worked for 48 hours and rested for 24; two days working non-stop and one day off. When he was supposed to sleep, he would still take me to practice and to all of my games," Hanga said.
"Every trophy I won, it was for him."
Szep taught Hanga discipline, but also led by example, working hard and applying that work ethic into basketball.
"He had a great heart. First of all, he was a policeman for 35 years and never fined anybody. He was always letting people go with a warning. He was such a great character - 2 meters tall, 120 kilos, hands like Shaquille O'Neal...," Hanga remembers. "He would come down to the street to play basketball with me. We had to jump over a fence to play in some school and he would do it, at 60 years of age. He would always rebound for me, even if it was raining. He meant a lot to me and if it weren't for him, I would never be the player or the person who I am today."
Going to practice was not easy, too, as the lack of financial resources got in the way sometimes.
"We had an Eastern car, a green Wartburg from 1978, 20 years old, always broke down. I remember he had to fix it and add water while we were on our way. We were the last to arrive at every game because we were the slowest ones!" Hanga remembers.
Of course, like every relative watching a little kid play, Szep wanted Hanga to do really well. "We would fight a lot after the games and that drove my grandmother crazy. He would complain about passing the ball too much, being the one who had to shoot. And I remember saying, 'But Grandpa, this is a team sport, we are supposed to share the ball!' And we kept fighting about it."
Even when there was a EuroLeague Championship Game in Budapest back in 1986, it was Hanga who introduced Szep into the game, and he became obsessed with it.
"He never played basketball but acted like he had played for 60 years! He knew everything about it and when I left, he had these VHS cassettes and would still watch me play when I was eight or 10 years old," Hanga remembers. "I was offering him to send him DVDs of my games and see something new, but he insisted on watching me play when I was a kid. He loved to watch those basketball tapes, but until I started to play basketball, I don't think he knew it even existed."
Asked about the biggest lesson he learned from his grandfather, Hanga did not hesitate, as it is something he is trying to pass on to his kids nowadays.
"To appreciate what you have, every moment. I never forgot where I came from. As a family, we were struggling and I still remember that. For my kids, it is a little bit different now because they have everything here in Barcelona. I try to remind them that it is not like that for every kid. We sit down and talk about it, that they have to appreciate everything that they have. This was my Grandpa's biggest lesson: appreciate what you have and work for it."
"When he passed away in March 2019, we played here in Palau Blaugrana and there was a minute of silence. If only he knew that! It would have meant everything for him!" Hanga remembers. The situation played out to be a strong motivator for Hanga, who had a season-high 18 points, along with 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals that night.
Not only did Szep keep Hanga's VHS tapes, but all his trophies, too, from a really early age.
"He was really proud of everything I won, and I have all my trophies and medals in Hungary. He made a small hall of fame, everything in the same room. Every trophy I won, it was for him," Hangs said.
Szep was also ready to joke when Hanga had a sub-par performance in a loss.
"I have a picture of him in my kitchen, sitting with me, and I see it every morning."
"He was killing me after every loss. It didn't matter if we hadn't lost for two or three weeks. He'd say, 'You guys are losing again, and you didn't score anything, why do they give you this money?' He was always like this."
Even when his grandfather is not with us anymore, Hanga will keep honoring him by playing hard, not taking things for granted and winning trophies with a very special dedication. His grandmother is still around and Hanga still calls her every day, remembering stories about Szep.
"I have a picture of him in my kitchen, sitting with me, and I see it every morning. The first couple of weeks without him were really hard for me, and it was also hard when I returned home after the season, in summer. That is when it hit me that he was not there anymore. My grandmother stayed with us until the summer, too, and we helped her to get through it. They were married for 60 years. And of course, I still miss him."